Something out of Snow Peas
All life is anti-climax.
I learned that, or resolved to believe that at all costs, somewhere between the news of the burglary one gloriously golden Austin afternoon, the anxious ride through the starry Big Texas election night back into our little ransacked universe, and the discovery that although things were bad, the world was wider.
Truth be told, though Verne and I cursed our fates aplenty, we held on to an old habit as if for dear life: remember what you have, and work with it.
And what we had, once the clean-up was done and the reports filed and the claims registered (and the locks changed), were empty bellies, tired brows, frozen ravioli–and snow peas.
I realized then that I’d forgotten about snow peas. Crisp, flat, little green pods, neither sugar-snap nor English pea, with no real identity of their own except as an “Asian” stir-fry ingredient that seemed to demand ginger, sesame, soy-teriyaki, and more to bring them to life.
But we had no patience to julienne ginger, strip red and yellow peppers, or find sesame. Working with what you have means not running out to the store in the middle of the night (if you had a store to run to in the middle of the night) on a quest to find pecorino and pancetta, and it means not trying to open reservoirs of patience that just aren’t there.
It means taking the snowpeas out of their bag, holding them in your hands, and feeling in their cool rubbery surfaces a sense of modest possibility. Pull out a half onion, red if you have it, any other if you don’t; chop it finely. What else is around? A small bunch of darkening mint. Enlist the older one to salvage the good leaves while you start on the snow peas. Give the half lemon to the younger, and get him to extract the juice.
[Don't have mint? Don't worry. Don't have lemon? Even a drying bit left over from an older lavish preparation? Never mind, it's a compromise, but salt will work to trick your tastebuds somewhat.]
Find the extra virgin olive oil. No extra virgin olive oil, you say? Well then butter? Regular any-other-oil? But by the time you’re at that third option, I want to add, exasperatedly: jeezus murphy, this ain’t no stone soup. I’m all for making something out of nothing in the spirit of the old Jewish story (rendered so beautifully in artwork by Sims Taback and in song by Raul Malo):
But please go buy yourself a nice little bottle of extra virgin olive oil? Your tired tastebuds will thank you for it, as will your snowpeas.
Right, so then: It’s easier and faster to clean snowpeas than it seems. Trim the ends and strip the strings while you set pasta water to boil, or while you let Verne clear up so many upturned boxes of papers. Curse hard — and then throw away the curses with the strings. Stack up the snowpeas neatly as the papers are being neatly re-filed and the clothes re-stacked on their shelves. Then pick up your sharpest knife and cut them at an angle thinly.
Mint leaves ready? Stack, roll, and slice those thinly, too. No patience? Just tear them roughly and set aside, along with your lemon juice and salt.
[Make sure your pasta is almost ready before starting the snow peas, as they really don't take much to prepare.]
Put a frying pan on a flame, and once it’s hot, add a a couple of teaspoons of the extra virgin olive oil. Follow almost immediately with the chopped onions. Fry on high heat till translucent.
Toss in the snowpeas, stir and fry for about 3-4 minutes until they are barely crisp-tender. Follow quickly with the lemon juice and salt, and at the very last moment throw in the mint leaves. Toss together, sprinkle with pecorino, parmesan, or really whatever cheese you have easily available to shredd–or skip the cheese entirely. Sweet-tart-salt. Snowpeas don’t really need much more than a little olive oil and lemon to shine through.
Voilà. You’re done and a beautiful meal appears out of virtually nothing.
The light’s not right for great photos, and the mood’s not right for celebration. Pancetta (diced and added to the frying pan before onions) would have undoubtedly made for more complex flavor. But all that will have to wait for a brighter moment.
All I had was nothing and nothing much to cook La la la la laa la la la laa laa laa What could I do with nothing? I just didn't know La la la la laa la la la laa laa laa So I thought, what could I do? I sang myself a song and I sing this song to you La la la la laa la la la laa laa laa I sang myself a song and I sing this song to you!
Recipe adapted from the New York Times.